"It goes against social norms when striking a deal, to insist on seeing the final paperwork before you leave your current firm," he said. "The receiving firm doesn't want to be seen as infringing on an existing contract you have elsewhere. It's like they're saying, 'You've got to stop dating the other guy before we'll ask you out.'"

Lawyers believe they can help negotiate not just an up-front signing bonus, but also terms for payout, office space, retirement benefits, expense counts and a sales assistant.

"Sometimes the hiring firm will offer up their attorney. But you need your own attorney who will act in your best interest, not the firm's," says Deborah Aronson, senior consultant with Diamond Consultants, a New Jersey-based financial advisor. "The cost is pennies, compared to the deal."

Advisors can even ask that terms include repayment of at least part of their legal fees once the transition is complete.

Lawyers favor getting in writing, in advance of hire, other details as well, including technology and back-office support, travel accommodations to visit clients, marketing and advertising allowances, terms for performance hurdles, and even employee termination issues, such as repayment of the note if the broker leaves the company.

Even when branch managers have the best of intentions to keep the promises they made to a new recruit, some decisions are out of their hands. Companies generally don't want to break promises and develop a reputation that hurts recruiting, but market conditions and other factors can prompt them to make changes in how they compensate and otherwise treat employees.

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